Diversity drives success for a family celebrating victory in county farm business championship
- Credit: TMS Media
A diverse approach to business and a determination to make the most of new opportunities has helped a family farm near Great Yarmouth to win a coveted annual award.
Hirst Farms in Ormesby is the champion in this year's Norfolk County Farm Business Competition, organised by the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.
The judges were impressed by the diversity of the farm, which comprises 230 hectares of arable land, a 2,000-place pig finishing unit, native breeds of cattle and sheep, a 45-horse livery, and Hirstys Family Fun Park – a leisure attraction which has grown from the farm's popular maize maze.
Owner Richard Hirst said he was 'over the moon' to win the award, which he attributed to the family team including his son Robert the farm manager, his wife Katrina and youngest daughter Eleanor who run the livery yard, and eldest daughter Fiona, who does some of the administration.
The fun park, which opens for the summer from July 16 to September 3, attracts about 25,000 visitors a year including its Easter and Halloween events, making it the most profitable enterprise on the farm, providing 35pc of the net profit, with the pig finishing and livery 'not far behind'.
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Richard said the diversity was economically important as the business sought to protect itself against future farming uncertainties, but it also helped involve customers in a complete field-to-fork story, as the maize provides entertainment, while the livestock provide burgers for food.
'People come in and buy burgers and there is a real focus on understanding what we are doing with lambing and calving, and those things which end up as meals for people,' he said. 'We have got a correlation between people hearing that story and coming back to buy burgers. We as farmers are in the best place to tell that story.'
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The farm also sells steaks and beef joints via The Tacons farm shop in nearby Rollesby. Robert added: 'We are getting 35-40pc more per animal by cutting it up and selling it privately, which makes it all worthwhile.'
The livestock includes 110 head of Red Poll cattle, and the Hirsts are aiming to expand the breeding herd from 45 cows to 70, with the help of mutually-beneficial partnerships with neighbouring farms.
'We had the chance to take over 200ha on two neighbouring farms that are both in HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) agreements which needed them to have native breeds grazing,' said Richard. 'So we are providing a grazing service, the landlord is taking all the payments attracted to that land, but we, in effect, have it rent-free, and it has given us the opportunity to expand the cattle and the sheep.'
The arable element of the farm grows wheat, barley, sugar beet, vining peas, potatoes, salads and grass, with about 10pc of the land managed for wildlife under HLS.
Vining peas are frozen for Ardo through Anglian Pea Growers, and salads are grown for G's Growers, for whom the farm also runs accommodation for 250 eastern European seasonal workers.
To minimise risk, the farm aims to add value to its crops wherever possible, growing premium milling wheat, and malting barley which is used by brewers at Adnams. Cereals are stored an marketed by CamGrain, freeing up time to concentrate on the more lucrative diversifications.
Robert said: 'CamGrain sort out all the marketing, so we are not spending our time looking at market values. We are doing what we should be doing. We are farming. The professionals are out there to sell the crop, not us.
'The farming still needs to be done properly, or there will be no return at all. We feel pretty confident with Brexit around the corner with whatever it throws at us, because we have got so many businesses going on. There is a lot more we could be doing, but we are more protected.'
PHOENIX FROM THE FLAMES
The pig finishing unit at the farm was an opportunity borne out of disaster, following a traumatic fire which destroyed buildings, sheep and newborn lambs in March 2014.
The blaze struck just three days after Robert Hirst's return to the farm from study and travelling and, although difficult to cope with, he said the insurance money gave the chance to re-invest £400,000 in two new sheds each holding 1,000 animals, supplied by Peddars Pigs.
'We were already looking at pigs at the time, but the fire gave us the opportunity to look at it more quickly than we would have done otherwise,' he said. 'There is a brilliant cashflow and we get a guaranteed monthly payment, as well as bonuses where the better job we do, the more we get paid.'
Robert's father said Richard added: 'It is definitely a phoenix to have come out of the fire. The other huge benefit is the muck. It is quite difficult to put a value on that but I think it is saving us between £10,000 and £15,000 a year on imported P and K (phosphate and potash).'
Norfolk Farm Business Competition 2017
Champion: Hirst Farms Ltd, Carr Farm, Ormesby
Reserve: Chapman Farms, Rollesby
Livestock: Fowell Bros, Hill Farm, Itteringham
1: Albanwise Farming Ltd, Green Farm, Saxlingham
2: Stratton Streles Estates, Hall Farm, Colby
1: J F Temple and Son, Copys Green Farm, Wighton
2: M and J E Attew and Son, Glebe Farm, Hanworth
Diversification: M and J E Attew
A celebratory farm walk will be held at 6pm on July 12 at Mill Farm, North Road, Ormesby, NR29 3LE. For more details contact Robert Mitchell on email@example.com.